A bond between sisters is resilient. It knows no limits: It offers the purest and most encompassing love in times of hurt. It gives support in times of weakness. Helps you find laughter when all you want to do is cry and, most importantly, reminds you of company when all you feel is alone.
Growing up, this is the bond I witnessed between 3 sisters: Marie, Kelly, and Deanna. Much like a home, it is always easy to judge relationships from the outside looking in. Flaws are quickly exposed, and doubt is cast on the true strength of the foundation. It is not until a storm so strong hits and that same foundation is tested that you discover its unwavering stability. In this instance, a foundation, the bond of those 3 sisters, was tested, and the storm: pancreatic cancer.
My aunt Marie was diagnosed on April 15, 2022, with stage IV metastatic and inoperable pancreatic cancer. What started almost six months prior as stomach discomfort, cramping, and unknown reactions to certain foods was now given a name, a diagnosis, and felt like a beginning to an end.
In some unexpected ways, the discovery of Marie’s illness has brought our family closer together, and I have seen the relationship between my aunt and her two sisters know no bounds. With such findings, it is almost always human nature to think of the what ifs, maybe the times you fought or failed your loved one. Although I can’t explain why it happens, the realization hits at some point: our realities have always been limited and inevitably will change whether we choose to ignore or accept them. In moments like this, people are sometimes granted luck, science works its course, a higher being or whatever your faith leads you to believe prevails, and they are given a moment to seize back what they can of the time they have left; that is what Marie has chosen to do.
Life is limited. No matter who we are, how much money we make, who we love, or what road we choose to travel in this life. This life is all we have. Sometimes it takes a terrible diagnosis for someone to open the shutters to a life beyond what we know and have seemed to barricade ourselves from. After Marie was diagnosed, she took a stand. She finally took leave from a job that had been unfulfilling for years, knowing the stress and drama would not benefit her in her fight against cancer. Weeks/weekends that are not followed by the intense chemotherapy she has chosen to undergo she spends with friends, family, and her pets. Laughing, crying, or laughing until she cries, not only reminiscing about the past but taking the opportunity to be in the moment with those she loves. She has taken weekend and day trips with her sisters by her side. From my bird’s eye view, from states away, I can not only see but feel the security and confidence she radiates taking control of HER life, not letting pancreatic cancer draft the blueprints for what remains ahead.
Cancer knows no limits and puts a sense of worry in the air when spoken or heard of. When you discover your loved one is going to have to fight not only cancer but pancreatic cancer, the words seem to drown out the noise surrounding you and echo in your ears so loud it’s almost deafening. The noise continues to shake you at your core when those around you respond with comments such as: “Oh, that’s not good at all.” “You know that’s the really bad cancer, right?” “Did you know XYZ was diagnosed with that same thing and only lived 3 months after finding out?” “Isn’t that what the one famous actor had that died?”
I wish I were joking.
Instead of allowing those words and thoughts to act like rocks to windows, trying to break a person or family from carelessness or blissful ignorance of others, my family has prevailed. My aunt has risen above them. Marie has taken the past 7 months, day by day, with such grace, and being a woman of her own beliefs, I have no choice but to commend her never-shaking faith.
For 28 years, I have watched my aunt be the epitome of a caretaker. Growing up, she looked after my brother and me like we were her own. Constantly there for my grandparents, ensuring they were and are looked after and always having their best interests in mind, even if it sometimes caused her a headache. For her sisters, she has always done whatever she can as the big sister to protect them both and let them know how loved each of them is. For friends, she has become a closer and kinder family member than maybe those of their actual kin. To literal strangers, she has offered a ride or a prayer, whatever they need to make one thing feel like it has gone right in the day. When I asked my aunt to describe herself in one word, her first response was “caretaker,” and I truly believe for all these years, that has given her a feeling of fulfillment and purpose.
In the past 7 months of chemotherapy, appointments, nurse check-ins, and more, my aunt has had to rely on the help and work of others. Doctors, nurses, researchers, friends, family, and most importantly, her 2 sisters. When I asked Deanna and my mom, Kelly, to share one word to describe my aunt, they said: steadfast and courageous. It is my sincere hope for Marie that whatever happens next if the storm lets up or continues to strengthen, she finds shelter in the comfort of those around her. That she feels as loved as she has made so many people feel for years beyond measure. Most importantly, she is not baring and never will bare this storm alone.
To my Cocie Marie: I love you. Even though I have tried desperately to put all the words together, there are none that I can give to make all this indefinitely better. I hope this at small note brought a silver lining to this ever-looming gray cloud and a smile to your beautiful face.
Kay currently resides in Phoenix, AZ, with her fiancé and their 3 dogs. Her Cocie Marie is the inspiration behind this piece as she continues her journey with Pancreatic Cancer. Her hope for this is to share awareness with others and offer support to her family from miles away.